There were a couple items I wanted to pass along because, as one who would prefer the area grow rather than shrivel up and die, we could use the help.
I’ll begin with Andy Harris:
(On Tuesday), Rep. Andy Harris (MD-01) joined Rep. Scott Rigell (VA-02) to pass legislation through the House that could create hundreds of jobs at an expanded Wallops Research Park, which is located near NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The bill removes restrictive federal government deed provisions that hinder job creation on the Delmarva. The legislation creates these jobs at no cost to hard-working taxpayers. Additionally, up to half of the potential high-paying jobs could be filled by Maryland’s Eastern Shore residents.
“We need to work to reduce undue burdens that the Federal Government is placing on the ability of local communities to create jobs,” said Rep. Andy Harris. “I will support any bill like this that helps foster an environment for job creation while costing hard-working taxpayers nothing.”
And then there’s former Harris opponent Senator E.J. Pipkin, working on the state side:
Senator E.J. Pipkin…announced that the Senate Finance Committee has approved his bill – SB 818 – to begin the process required to consider building a third span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
Pipkin said, “I am elated that the Committee has taken the first step in the long journey toward what must happen – construction of another Bay Bridge span. No one who uses the Bay Bridge on a daily commute or on a weekend to visit Ocean City will debate the necessity for a third span.”
Senator Pipkin pointed out that the bridge carries an average of 68,000 vehicles each day. Five mile backups are not unusual at any time, but are common in the summer when an average of 100,000 vehicles cross the bay each day. “The bridge has the dubious distinction of having the worst traffic delays on the northeast coast,” he said. The Bay Bridge Transportation Needs Report revealed that 402 accidents occurred during its 3-year study period; a significantly higher volume than for similar highways.
Before any large project can commence, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires an Environmental Impact Statement. The process includes a public scoping process, data collection, analysis of policy alternatives and preparation of draft and final documents, all of which takes 6.1 years, as estimated in 2003. “Putting Maryland into the NEPA process would finally address the issue of a third span and enable us to make policy decisions to move forward,” declared Senator Pipkin.
Using the cost of NEPA studies for the ICC as a base and adjusting for inflation, the Department of Legislative Services projects a cost of $35 million between 2013-2017 for the NEPA study. The MdTA would pay for the cost of the study out of its operating expenses. “Last summer, the MdTA approved the largest toll increase in the State’s history, so it comes as a surprise that it now claims that this process would be too expensive.”
Pipkin stressed that SB 818 does not require that a third Bay Bridge be built, but enables us to move forward to the next step in considering our transportation needs. It will take 15 to 20 years to build a new Bay Bridge.
The role of government is not to provide a vehicle for crony capitalism, but work on those areas which benefit the public at large. It seems like the Harris/Rigell measure does just that. Knowing Wallops Island is a federal installation which is vital for the national defense (a legitimate Constitutional function) I see no problem with private enterprise having a share in that success. To be quite honest, I never knew there was a Wallops Research Park, but that’s in part because it’s a little off the beaten path. Maybe that was part of their problem as well.
Of course, the local infrastructure may need improvement as the main highway to Wallops Island is the same two-lane artery which takes tourist traffic beyond Wallops Island to Chincoteague. At some point if the new venture is successful we may have to see Virginia Route 175 dualized – but that’s probably at least a decade off.
Transportation woes are hopefully being addressed with Pipkin’s proposal as well. But I believe a third span would be much more practical several miles south of the existing Bay Bridge. Geographically it makes a lot of sense to have a span from Dorchester County to Calvert County at a point where the Bay is relatively narrow, but I could already imagine the hue and cry from environmentalists and NIMBY types, particularly on the Eastern Shore. This would also require Maryland Route 16 to be seriously upgraded, at least to Cambridge.
But there would be advantages as well, particularly on the tourism and accessibility front. Opening a southern route may encourage more commerce between the fast-growing counties of Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. Why should the mid-Shore reap all the benefits from a Bay crossing?
As Pipkin says, though, we are probably a couple decades away from a third span and by then there may not be anything left of the Lower Shore to connect with except for Ocean City. A state which is doing its best to strangle rural development in the War on Rural Maryland isn’t going to care whether we receive help or not, just as long as the tax dollars arrive.